This post was previously published at www.missioalliance.org and was re-posted with permission.
There are many male leaders in the church who want to empower women leaders, but they’re stuck. They want to empower, but don’t know how to go about doing it. As a male leader, I have a strong conviction of the need to empower women in their God-given talents, passions, and leadership. Over the past several years, I’ve moved from passive agreement with the idea of women leaders to active engagement and advocacy in order to serve and encourage our sisters for the sake of Christ and his church. I long for other male leaders to do the same.
But, there have been many times where I’ve wanted to encourage and empower, but I didn’t exactly know—on the most practical level—how to go about doing that. I want to share some things I’ve learned—and I find it important enough to keep learning. But for now, here are 9 ridiculously practical and proactive ways men can act to empower women leaders in the church.
1. Put yourself in a position of learning from women leaders.
One of the most practical ways we can listen to women leaders is to follow, listen, and learn from them online. You’ll begin to see the way they see the world, their passion for ministry and leadership, their perspective, and their influence with others. If you need a starting point, here are several I’d recommend: MaryKate Morse, Karina Kreminski, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Jenny Yang, Jo Saxton, Sarah Bessey, and Joanne Lyon. But more than just following them online, make a commitment to read books by women leaders. Consider starting with Mandy Smith’s The Vulnerable Pastor, Carolyn Custis James’ Half The Church and Malestrom, and Tara Beth Leach’s book Emboldened.
It’s also important to read from both women and men on the topic of women in leadership. Consider reading How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories From Prominent Evangelicals and Scot McKnight’s books The Blue Parakeet and Junia Is Not Alone.
To be even more specific and practical, a significant way to listen and learn from women leaders is to attend the Missio Alliance event: She Leads this October 28. While hosted live in Pasadena, CA, it also includes simulcast locations across the country. Consider becoming a regional venue or hosting a viewing party at your church or in your own living room. Listen, learn, reflect, ponder, and engage in conversation with others about the topics and presenters. I have no doubt it will help you learn, but it will also empower and encourage other women leaders, directly and indirectly, by your presence and participation.
2. Carve out fifteen minutes to brainstorm.
Think about the women leaders—or women who you believe could grow into leadership—in your sphere of relationships. Old and young, in your ZIP code and around the country. Just write down their names.
3. Encourage them.
It’s important that we encourage and affirm where we see God at work in our sisters in Christ. My good friend Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati shared with me, “Since it’s mostly been men who have criticized and questioned the validity of my leadership, it’s been incredibly healing when men have also spoken truth over my calling. I remember every single time a man said, ‘We need what you bring’ or ‘I see God working through you.’” Choose a few names of leaders that you wrote down and drop them a line of encouragement. Send a text or email. Pick up the phone and call. Write a handwritten note of appreciation and affirmation of their gifts and how God is using their leadership in the lives of people. It doesn’t have to be long or time-consuming, but it does need to be intentional and affirming of their gifts.
4. Invite some of the leaders on your brainstormed list to share their story with you.
Ask a female leader to connect and share her story with you. I’ve found that when I do this I’m surprised each and every time, realizing that it was quite different than what I originally anticipated. Sometimes the stories are encouraging; other times they are deeply painful. But this perspective is important for me to know and enter into. Men, this is not a time for us to share our stories, to interject our ideas, or to give our suggestions. It is a time to sit down, close our mouths, and simply listen. Practically speaking, here are several questions I’ve asked female leaders in these meetings.
- When did you first sense you were a leader?
- Is/was there a particular person who first empowered you, called out your gift, encouraged you, or mentored you that marked who you are today? Why do you believe they played that role in your life?
- Who are key voices in your life that empower or encourage you in your leadership journey today?
- What’s exciting and fulfilling for you as a woman leader?
- What has been—or continues to be—discouraging and disheartening as a woman leader?
- What area(s) of leadership to do you long to grow in or have the opportunity to lead more?
- What do you wish male leaders in the church would know?
- What do you wish male leaders would do more to help empower and encourage your leadership? And what do you wish they would stop doing?
5. Be thoughtful about how you recognize emerging female leaders.
As male leaders, we can easily look for emerging leaders who look like us and have the potential to lead like us. It’s essential that we are mindful to look for leaders who may not lead in the style, manner, or way we do. If we only look for leaders like us, we may overlook many women who lead in very different ways, thus failing to see the future leaders who are already among us.
6. Take an audit of your conversations.
When in a roomful of leaders, think carefully about your conversations. I’ve had woman leaders tell me that not only are they frequently interrupted in conversations with other men, but that they come to expect to be interrupted. Ask yourself: how am I in conversations? Do I speak more than I listen? Do I interject or talk over? Do I regularly seek out the opinion of other women leaders and ask, ‘What do you think about …?’ And—if we’re able to draw on our courage—consider asking other female leaders how they perceive conversations with you.
7. Don’t assume—ask.
I’ve found that the best thing I can do is not assume what I can do to help. So, I simply ask: “You have much to offer through your leadership. What can I do to help support you in your calling and leadership?” Sometimes they ask for prayer or an introduction to someone else or even an opportunity to lead. But sadly, what I get most often is silence and a look of shock. These sisters often tell me that they aren’t used to being asked this question. One woman I talked with last month had tears in her eyes and said, “I’ve never been asked that question before, although I’ve wanted it to be asked for years.” My heart broke. Men, we need to learn to ask this question more frequently of our sisters. Many of them may be longing to respond to such a question if asked.
8. Offer to introduce them to other leaders you know.
When I’ve met with gifted women leaders where I long to see their leadership sphere increase, I offer to introduce them to other leaders. Should they want me to make that connection, I send an email of introduction to other leaders who are in similar fields or who I believe can benefit from their leadership and contribution to the church. This includes introducing them to male leaders, as well as other female leaders who might encourage, nurture, and champion them.
9. Share the platform—or give it to them.
As male leaders, there are opportunities big and small where we can include female leaders. Invite them to join you in your leadership. Co-lead a small group together. Co-preach on a Sunday morning. Co-write a blog entry. Invite them to speak into—and speak out—at the next leadership meeting. Interview them and highlight their story from up-front. Co-lead a new initiative in the community. But there are times where co-leading isn’t enough. Instead, there are times when men need to turn down an opportunity to lead or decline a speaking opportunity in order to recommend and advocate for a leader who should be highlighted. Yes, it’s laying down some opportunities and recognition, but if we truly believe that our power is not self-serving, but should be used to honor and build up others, then why not use it to honor and advocate for our sisters in Christ?
Brothers in ministry, our purpose is not simply to “help the cause” just because it’s the "right thing to do." We do this not out of our own pride or pity. We advocate and encourage with conviction in order that, as Paul says in Ephesians 4, the entire church may be fully formed and mature, as Christ desires her to be. The church is better when we have brothers and sisters leading side by side, but it takes much more than passive agreement from male leaders. What is needed are brothers who are willing to actively engage and advocate on behalf of our sisters for the sake of Jesus and his church.